Sunday, December 25, 2005

Faces to watch 2006 - Media


Sunday December 25, 2005

Faces to watch 2006

By Steven Barrie-Anthony


Editorial page columnist

You may recall Macarena Hernandez, 31, as the journalist who exposed former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair as a plagiarist. More recently, you may have heard Fox's Bill O'Reilly call for a boycott of the Dallas Morning News after Hernandez -- who this year became the first Latina editorial page columnist for that paper -- suggested that O'Reilly uses illegal immigrants as scapegoats. What you probably don't know is that Hernandez grew up three miles north of the Rio Grande, laboring in the fields with her migrant worker parents, feeling the sting of racial and class division. "My father was a really proud man," she says. "Really handsome. Around his friends he was a towering figure, very generous. But every time I would see him in the fields, next to these farmers, watch him beg for work, I saw him shrink. It broke my heart to see him so humiliated." On her college paper Hernandez began to "tell the stories about people like me who, growing up, I felt were invisible," and that ambition remains. "I hate to label her as a Latina voice," says Charles Whitaker, assistant professor at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. "But she's going to be an important voice on issues of race and class, speaking eloquently from a perspective that we don't often hear."

Faces to watch 2006 - Media


Sunday December 25, 2005

Faces to watch 2006

By Steven Barrie-Anthony


Sports journalist

Arash Markazi, 25, realized in high school that "at 5-foot-6 or -7, my dream of playing basketball in the NBA was probably not going to happen." Instead, he joined the school newspaper to cover the sports beat and hasn't stopped writing since. In college at USC he won nearly every student journalism award imaginable and since graduation has worn dual hats at Sports Illustrated, reporting for the magazine and penning a weekly column titled "The Hot Read" for

Markazi has published intimate and quirky portraits of Wayne Gretzky and Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo, and frequently jets around the country covering the full gambit of college sports (in a particularly entertaining column, Markazi joins USC football greats Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush in a Manhattan nightclub after the presentation of the Heisman Trophy). What you won't know from reading his stories is that Markazi has battled cancer twice, in college and then earlier this year, and that he continued to write columns from his Los Angeles hospital bed while sports games blared from a nearby television set. "It was just like a big relief to know that I could continue to write, to cover sports," he says.

Faces to watch 2006 - Broadcasting


Sunday December 25, 2005

Faces to watch 2006

By Steven Barrie-Anthony


TV reporter

An education at Yale and the UC Berkeley School of Journalism plus a coveted internship at "Nightline" could hardly prepare Yunji de Nies, 26, for covering Hurricane Katrina. But she was one of only three reporters for WGNO-TV, a local New Orleans station, who opted to remain on the job once the storm hit.

With water levels rising, De Nies and her crew abandoned their homes and camped out in neighboring Baton Rouge, making forays into the devastation. She sweet-talked National Guardsmen into letting her pass, learned the back roads and, cameras rolling, conveyed firsthand the city's chaos, grief and rage. New Orleans is far from healed, and De Nies continues reporting on the reconstruction of levees, of lives.

The WGNO headquarters is in shambles, so she and her colleagues work in double-wide trailers, broadcasting their evening newscast against a revolving backdrop of burnt-out buildings and washed-out streets.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

What's killing the messenger


Sunday December 18, 2005

What's killing the messenger

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

IT'S a gloomy Christmastime for print journalism. There have always been doomsayers in this business -- we're a curmudgeonly breed -- but after a year of hard knocks and tough realizations, even happy-go-lucky newshounds are questioning their fate.

"The sooner [2005] is over, the better," says Michael Massing, a Columbia Journalism Review contributor. "There have been so many negative developments, it's easy to say, 'Things can only get better.' But that's probably wishful thinking."

In the last year, newspapers have:

Lost readers. Industrywide weekday circulation dropped 2.6% in the six-month period ending in September, and many observers expect a continuing decline. Even more startling is the fact, supported by demographic studies, that few young people read the paper. They'd rather get their news fix from inkless, un-foldable computer screens. What nerve.

Lost advertisers, mostly tied to declining circulation numbers. Classified advertising revenue -- once a cash cow -- has also plummeted, in part because of websites like offering ad space for free.

Trimmed staffs. Buyouts and layoffs have become common. The Los Angeles Times has cut 85 editorial positions; among other papers, the Boston Globe was planning to cut 35 and the New York Times 45. Hundreds of newspaper jobs outside of newsrooms have also been lost. All of which journalists tend to find abominable, given that most papers remain highly profitable.

Endured the Judy Miller brouhaha. The ex-New York Times reporter spent 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal a White House source -- and then flip-flopped after that source, I. Lewis Libby, sent her a letter. Critics say that Miller's brand of "trust-me journalism," which relies heavily on anonymous sourcing, spawns uncomfortably close relationships between journalists and sources, and that it was this kind of reporting that led Miller and journalism at large to accept the Bush administration's claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Still, not everybody is resigned to the craft's demise. "Professional news-gathering organizations will survive and prosper in the future," says Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University. "But not without changing a lot -- more than many of them are prepared for."

Taking Wraps Off Good Side of Compton


Sunday December 18, 2005

Taking Wraps Off Good Side of Compton
* A toy giveaway brings cheer to 3,000 kids. Nearby, 220 guns are turned in to deputies.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

Thousands of kids stood in line Saturday morning and afternoon outside Compton City Hall, tugging on their parents and daydreaming of presents.

"I want clothes for winter and summer," said Terrel Hyder, 12. "And I want a job and a drum."

His mother, Valerie Singleton, smiled.

"We don't have any money, nothing," said the in-home caregiver, who recently was laid off. "Without this, my four kids wouldn't get anything."

Like Singleton, many of the parents who gathered at this third annual Winter Wonderland Giveaway, organized by Councilwoman Barbara Calhoun and sponsored by the city, expressed relief that in this time of giving, their kids would feel included.

"I used to buy presents in September," said Renee Siguas, standing alongside two of her four children. "But I was laid off from Vons, and now I have to spend all my money on groceries. My daughter Rosa wants a flying Barbie."

Throughout the day, about 5,000 toys donated by retailers and local businesses were distributed among nearly 3,000 kids, said Councilman Isadore Hall. Only Compton residents ages 16 or younger were eligible for the giveaway.

After waiting in line for an hour or more, each family was welcomed into the foyer of the converted City Council chambers, where a jolly volunteer led them in singing Christmas carols of their choosing.

Few had time to finish their songs, however. Soon they were rushed through a door into the inner sanctum, a room brimming with punching bags, dolls, videogames, bicycles and unopened boxes, and manned by dozens of harried volunteers.

Somebody would yell out a kid's age and gender -- "Boy! 12!" -- and in seconds a volunteer would thrust two age-specific presents into the hands of each wide-eyed child. The exit was clogged by gleeful children, hugging toys to their chests, too stunned by their good fortune to move their feet.

It's this image of community and generosity that should represent Compton, Hall said. Compton, which has the highest homicide rate in Los Angeles County, "gets a bad rap because of all the shootings," he said. "But we're working very hard to try and turn that around."

Indeed, at a shopping center just blocks from City Hall, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department was conducting another sort of giveaway, dubbed "Gifts for Guns." Anyone who showed up with a gun was allowed to trade it in for a $100 gift certificate to Ralphs, Toys-R-Us or Circuit City with no questions asked.

At the end of the day the department had collected more than 220 guns, said Sheriff's Capt. Eric K. Hamilton.

"We did exceptionally well," he said. "We had so many people lining up that we ran out of certificates, so we had to ask City Hall and the Sheriff's Department to provide extra funds. People turned in all sorts of guns: assault weapons, Uzis, shotguns. Each gun taken off the street can mean the difference between life and death."

Back at Winter Wonderland, Juan Caldera, 7, waited in tense anticipation. He was excited about presents, sure, but even more exciting was the prospect of playing in the snow that organizers had spread on a cordoned-off portion of Compton Avenue.

"I've never touched snow before," Juan said, lugging a new football and videogamewhile leading his mother, brother and two sisters in the direction of flying snowballs.

When he finally touched snow, he leapt back for a moment, and ran to the fence to tell his mother, "It's cold!" Then he galloped off to pelt his oldest sister.

Friday, December 9, 2005

A reluctant revisiting of 'Brokeback'


Friday December 09, 2005

A reluctant revisiting of 'Brokeback'

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

E. Annie Proulx is sipping coffee at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills and talking about literary ghosts.

She has struggled for years to get Ennis and Jack out of her head. These are the two leads who fall in love in Proulx's short story "Brokeback Mountain," male ranch hands whose secrecy and self-denial is bleak and heartbreaking and -- to anyone who has experienced homophobia and its ramifications -- disquietingly familiar.

Proulx, 70, in town recently for the premiere of Ang Lee's film adaptation of "Brokeback Mountain," says that while she was "blown away" by the movie, she doesn't welcome the return of Ennis and Jack to the forefront of her consciousness.

"Put yourself in my place," the author says. "An elderly, white, straight female, trying to write about two 19-year-old gay kids in 1963. What kind of imaginative leap do you think was necessary? Profound, extreme, large. To get into those guys' heads and actions took a lot of 16-hour days, and never thinking about anything else and living a zombie life. That's what I had to do. I really needed an exorcist to get rid of those characters. And they roared back when I saw the film."

The story bubbled forth from "years and years of observation and subliminal taking in of rural homophobia," says Proulx, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Shipping News," was also adapted for the screen. She remembers the moment when those years of observed hatred began taking form. It was 1995 and Proulx, who lives in Wyoming, visited a crowded bar near the Montana border. The place was rowdy and packed with attractive women, everyone was drinking, and the energy was high.

"There was the smell of sex in the air," Proulx remembers. "But here was this old shabby-looking guy.... watching the guys playing pool. He had a raw hunger in his eyes that made me wonder if he were country gay. I wondered, 'What would've he been like when he was younger?' Then he disappeared, and in his place appeared Ennis. And then Jack. You can't have Ennis without Jack."

Proulx didn't think her story would ever be published. The material felt too risky; Ennis and Jack express their love with as much physical gusto as any heterosexual couple, and it happens in full view of the reader, without any nervous obfuscation. The backdrop is that wide expansive West that bore forth John Wayne and the Marlboro Man -- but here the edges of the mythos fray, and the world becomes chilly and oppressive.

The story was published in the New Yorker magazine in 1997, and screenwriter Diana Ossana read it one night when she couldn't sleep. "It just floored me," Ossana says, speaking after a screening of "Brokeback Mountain." She ran downstairs to show it to her writing partner, who happens to be Larry McMurtry ("The Last Picture Show," "Lonesome Dove") and suggested they turn it into a screenplay. "I've known [McMurtry] for 20 years," Ossana said, "and this is the first time I've heard him say yes to something I suggested, without an argument."

The following day the screenwriters sent a letter to Proulx, asking to option the story with their own money. Proulx agreed.

"She trusted us more than she should have," McMurtry says. "She trusted us not to make the story unless we could make it right."

Proulx, for her part, found their enthusiasm "interesting" but thought to herself, "this is not going to happen." She had never considered "Brokeback Mountain" to be a cinematic possibility -- it pushes too many buttons, challenges too many norms. "Never, never, never, never, no," she says, at the Four Seasons, shaking her head. "Uh-uh." Then, three months later, Ossana and McMurtry sent her their screenplay, a spare and unfailingly faithful rendition of the story. The divergences grow organically from what's on the page, and the rest is as Proulx wrote it, nearly verbatim.

"I thought it was good," Proulx says. She had a few quibbles, mostly about language -- some of it seemed to her more Texas than Wyoming -- but those were worked out in the next and final draft. It made sense for the screenplay to stick closely to its source, Proulx says with her typical candor. "This was a strong story. It had a very solid framework, it had terse, good language. It would've been hard to change that without maiming everything."

The rest happened slowly, and Proulx had little involvement, retreating into Wyoming and her writing, trying as best she could to banish Ennis and Jack from her mind. Lee initially turned down the project to direct "The Hulk," then signed on again afterward. Casting the two leading roles was particularly difficult, Ossana says.

The movie, like the story, does not pull any punches. The sex is just as graphic, the critique of rural homophobia just as angst-ridden and raw. Proulx doesn't pretend to know how the movie will play with audiences, but she likes that her message will be broadcast through such a popular medium.

"There are a lot of people who see movies who do not read," Proulx says. "It used to be that writing and architecture were the main carriers, permanent carriers, of culture and civilization. Now you have to add film to that list, because film is the vehicle of cultural transmission of our time. It would be insane to say otherwise, to say that the book is still the thing. It isn't."

Perhaps true. But for many of Proulx's most ardent fans, the story is the thing. Take Michael Silverblatt, the radio host of KCRW's "Bookworm" program, who says that this kind of literary genius is "uncapturable" by film. Silverblatt remembers reading "Brokeback Mountain" in the New Yorker and the sensation of being surprised in stages: "Here's a story that was taking place outdoors, which is unusual enough in the New Yorker. And it's a western, another rarity. And creeping up on me is the feeling: These cowboys are falling in love!" (The story was recently posted on the New Yorker website at

Since Proulx was in town for the film's premier, Silverblatt arranged to moderate a question-and-answer session with Proulx after a screening of the film at the ArcLight. "The story let me cry and the movie made me cry," he told the audience. "I feel there is a sadness ladled on in the movie."

Proulx replied: "I think it's good for us to feel the emotion that the film engenders, whatever its source."

"The story began in 1963," said a woman from the audience. "Do you think things are better now, in terms of attitudes?"

"I wish," Proulx said. "But one year after the story was published, Matthew Shepard was killed less than 30 miles from where I live. I was called to be on the jury for one of the killers."

The tough-guy Western mythology undergirding our national identity should be questioned, Proulx says, and she hopes that her story -- and now this movie -- will spur that kind of dialogue.

Which already seems to be happening. Bill Handley, an associate professor of English at USC, was in the audience at ArcLight, and plans to put together a book of essays on the story and the film.

"It's a groundbreaking story, worthy of close attention," he says. "The essays will focus on a whole range of questions on sexuality, landscape, authenticity, and labor in the West. Who knows what the response to this film is going to be, and what that will tell us about the culture."

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Kanye West Holds School Crowd Rapt


Tuesday December 06, 2005

Kanye West Holds School Crowd Rapt
* The singer performs at Santa Monica High after the campus won a radio contest.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

Kanye is coming.

You could hear his name ringing through the boisterous lunchtime chatter at Santa Monica High School. You could read it on T-shirts all over the Santa Monica campus: Kanye West. He's coming!

"This is the best thing that's ever happened to us," said Laura Thatcher, 15, kicking back with friends outside the school. "We have 30-minute classes, and then we're seeing a concert."

Thatcher and her classmates more than earned a visit from one of music's hottest acts.

Back in November, DJ Big Boy of KPWR-FM (105.9) announced a contest called "Big Boy's Backstage With Kanye West." All Southern California high schools were eligible to participate, and the rules were simple: Whichever student body voted for their school most frequently on the contest website would win a concert with mega rap star West.

At Santa Monica High, voting fever spread quickly. Students passed notes, whispered in locker rooms and posted bulletins for their friends to read on the social networking website The gist was: Vote now and vote often. And they did. In the end, Santa Monica High students submitted nearly 1 million votes out of the 5 million cast.

Students voted constantly to get Santa Monica's numbers up. In the end, the school received nearly twice as many votes as Antonio Villaraigosa and James K. Hahn combined in the Los Angeles mayoral election. And then it was Monday, and West was due any moment for a 2 p.m. concert in the school's outdoor amphitheater.

Even the principal, Ilene Straus, was giddy. "I'm so excited!" she said, sitting in the basketball gym where the media had set up camp. She was surrounded by camera crews and reporters scribbling on notepads. "High school education is very serious. The stakes are high. But this, today, is a time to enjoy high school kids, to enjoy the energy."

Energy is an understatement, teachers say. Once students caught wind of the contest, it was "hard to get them to concentrate," said Tania Fischer, an art teacher. "They were always asking me, 'Can I get on the computer?' Some would come in looking haggard and tell me that they stayed up all night, on the computer, voting."

Still, teachers and administrators seemed as excited as the students. "We are a school with huge diversity," said Straus of the campus, which last school year experienced a flare-up of racial tension. "Over 40 cultures are represented in our 3,500-person student body. This event has really brought us all together."

Straus said she hoped that West would encourage students to get a college education, and, indeed, West was using this appearance as a platform to announce a sweepstakes for $150,000 toward college tuition, co-sponsored by music retailer Musicland and the Kanye West Foundation. But there is mild irony here. West didn't finish college -- his first album is titled "The College Dropout" -- and he talks and raps frequently about the benefits of a real-world education.

"Me? I use real life, I learn from real people," West said when he arrived, sitting in a classroom, about to go onstage. "The great thing about school, and the bad thing about it, is that you can just sit there in the back of the room and not pay any attention. In real life, being shy is not going to get you anywhere. I get educated every day."

The concert lasted about an hour, and the crowd noise rivaled any stadium din. Some students grouped together and spelled K-A-N-Y-E W-E-S-T on their sweatshirts with masking tape.

Others wore T-shirts emblazoned with Kanye's controversial post-Hurricane Katrina statement: "Bush doesn't care about black people."

In the middle of a rousing six-song set, West paused to take questions from the crowd.

"What kind of grades did you get in high school?" asked one student.

"I didn't do a lot of homework," West answered, to laughter. "But I got a lot of A's and Bs."